Archive for February, 2008

Carry That Weight – Re-revisited

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Way back in a year they once called 2005, I made a post about a snag that had fallen on top of a nearby Blackjack Oak tree, bending it to the ground. Then, just over two years ago, I went back to the tree to see how things were holding up (or down?), and I made a post about what I found then.

On my last visit to Roundrock, I stopped by the tree again, and here is what I found this time:

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That little tree is still carrying that weight, a long time now.

For those of you who don’t want to click the links, let me tell you that the roots of that fallen snag are suspended in the air. It may look like they are touching the ground, but they are not. (The top of the formerly standing tree is resting on the ground outside of the photo on the right.)

This little balancing act is a feature along our trail to the pond, and it happens to be fairly close to the place where we had put one of the game cameras recently. (In fact, I’ll probably put the camera there again since the critters obviously like the corn and peanuts I had seeded there. Maybe they’ll visit the location again.)

I suppose that some day I’ll come to this spot and find that the old snag has slipped off the oak and the delicate balancing act will be over. That will probably be worth a post as well.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • James Craig was born on this date in 1817. He served in the Army and the state militia during the border troubles and the Civil War, keeping northwest Missouri mostly in Union control and mostly free of guerilla war.

Stumped

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

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When I came across this near the pines, I was stumped. The tree that this once was grew near my northwest corner in some deep, good, completely un-Ozark type soil. It is close to but not right on the fence, and there are plenty of other trees of its same size growing nearby. It’s not apparent why this particular tree was taken while so many around it were not.

That won’t stop me from making a guess, of course. I’m going to say that this tree was cut down to be used as a fence post, perhaps at the nearby corner. (The running length of the fence has steel posts. The corners have wooden posts.) I base my guess on two things I do know about the tree. First, the stump shows that the diameter of the tree was pretty good for a career as a fence post. Second, the cut was made so very low to the ground, allowing more of the trunk to be preserved.

The ring pattern suggests that the tree was fairly straight, which helps support the idea that it might have been a suitable post tree as well.

I wish my tree identification skills were better so that I could make an educated guess about what type of tree it was. Given that the stump has hardly rotted away at all suggests to me that it is a wood that is rot resistant — and thus would make a good post.

These are the kinds of things I spend my days thinking about. It’s a benign sort of madness.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is sadly blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The First Missouri Volunteers marched on the Mexican city of Chihuahua on this day in 1847. Looking more like bears than men, they were vastly outnumbered and outgunned, but they surprised their opponents and opened Mexico to further conquest by the United States.

My string theory

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

A white oak sits inside the curve of the road just after it passes the pine trees and just before it passes the pond. I’ve always liked this tree, even though I had to cut away some of its lower branches that were reaching into the road too much. I made mention of the tree here, and that leads to my post today.

I’d concluded that the tree had been used in years past as a hunting blind. The stout branches about ten feet up could easily and comfortably support a hunter, and since the tree rises near the pond, it is possible that the location is good for spotting game.

In recent years I found a length of green string hanging from the branches, up to the area where a hunter might sit. I assumed that it allowed him or her to hoist supplies up in the tree once up there himself or herself.

When we were last at Roundrock, I took Seth by this tree to show him the green string. Alas, it was not there. I looked about on the ground below the tree, thinking it would be there, but, again, alas, it was not. Seth began expressing his doubts of my assertions about the tree. It was then that I suggested the boy go climb a tree. That tree, specifically.

Now, I don’t have any really long ladders stored in the scrub at Roundrock. Seth was going to have to climb the tree the old-fashioned way (though that first rung some past hunter had put there gave him a start). He pulled himself up into the branches, finding handy and strong footholds as he went.

I asked him to look around in the convenient shelves the branches made to see if the hunter had left anything behind up there. Alas, there was nothing there.

But he did find a sort of coat hook screwed into a branch over his head. And tied to it were some wispy remnants of green string.

Missouri calendar:

  • Boxelder bugs are seen on warm days until April.
  • Watch for the flap and glide of mourning doves’ courtship flights.

Today in Missouri history:

  • On this day in 1851, the state legislature passed a bill authorizing the construction of wooden plank roads for opening the interior of the state. Such roads did not prove durable enough, but they did create routes that later, more durable roads still travel today.

2.24.2008 – What didn’t happen

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

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When we didn’t go out to Roundrock on Sunday (because of the challenging weather conditions), we didn’t do all of the following things:

We didn’t stop at the game camera we had left on the tree across from the suet feeder, and we didn’t download all of the pictures of the many woodpeckers (including, probably, an ivory bill) that had visited. As a result, we also didn’t put in fresh batteries and move it to a new location, salted with lots of corn and peanuts that we didn’t take down there with us. And because we never went down there, we didn’t manage to set up the other game camera (the one that is still giving me fits) to give it one last chance to perform.

We didn’t check on the pine trees to see how their fences were holding up either. We would probably have found that they were holding up well, and we might have even seen some vandalizing attempts by the deer captured by the nearby game camera when it wasn’t shooting the ivory billed woodpeckers.

We didn’t go down to the lake to listen to the ice booming, and because we didn’t do that, I won’t be giving you the audio on a video clip of it this coming Saturday. Too bad about that.

Another thing we didn’t do when we weren’t down there was hike up to the unfenced part of our southern boundary line and sink a couple of fence posts in the spots where we had found two old survey stakes on recent trips. And after we didn’t do that, we didn’t try using line-of-sight to plot the direction the property line goes based on those two points that are established. Thus we didn’t try hanging temporary bits of survey tape in the trees and to see if we came out close to the southwest corner where another stake rises.

Because we didn’t go to Roundrock, we didn’t sit in the comfy chairs, shivering a bit in the weak sunlight to eat our sandwiches. We didn’t find that all of our firewood was too wet to build a fire, so we didn’t decide not to make a fire.

We also didn’t get the truck bogged down in the sloppy mud of the road across my neighbor’s meadow, in the soft area where our road turns into the trees down to the lake, or in the pecan plantation where I would have imprudently driven my truck despite admonitions from Libby that that would have been a really stupid idea.

Here are some things that might have happened today though:

Missouri calendar:

  • Opossum young are born and climb into the female’s pouch.
  • River otter litters are born now through late March.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Abraham Williams, Missouri’s third governor, born with only one leg who served a scant six months in the office, was born on this date in 1781.

Color creeps

Monday, February 25th, 2008

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Soon color will begin creeping into the forest. The unremitting gray and tan of winter in the Roundrock woods will begin to green, then the first, tiny wildflowers will dare to raise their colorful flowers to the sun. Some will have come out even before the green leaves of the trees. The duckweed will spread across the pond, soon covering the surface with a brilliant green that will mature into a more sober green as the summer progresses. The spring wildflowers will transition to the summer wildflowers. The birds of many colors will appear in the forest (or they have been there all along but only lately put on their colorful plumage).

Every year I find something new under the sun in my woods. New to me, anyway. That’s always rewarding because it means there is more for me to experience there. I found the stump of a cut tree the last time I was out. It’s been there longer than I have been coming to the woods, but I only found it the first time recently.

The green above is in the small pool below the overflow outlet at the base of the dam. Right now it is the most colorful place at Roundrock. I hope to bring you the pageant of colors all summer long.

Missouri calendar:

  • Listen for western chorus frogs; sound is like a thumbnail run along a comb.
  • Killdeer begin arriving.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Georg Wendelin Wall was born in Switzerland on this date in 1811. He came to St. Louis as a Lutheran missionary and founded a synod there that evolved and is now known as the United Church of Christ.

Sunday slurrings

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

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I once sat beside a pond for more than an hour waiting for some people to arrive. They never came, but I did get to see the pond in a lot more detail than I ever thought I would. Carolyn, over at Roundtop Ruminations, has started a new temporary blog chronicling her ability to sit still in nature. She calls it her Sit Spot Journal. You, too, can join the Sit Spot Challenge, and I think most of the readers of this humble blog would appreciate the goals. I’m not sure why they chose the middle of winter to establish their challenge, but they’re the ones in charge, not me.

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Lest ye forget, Peg at Orchards Forever (where Peg’s thoughts drop like blossoms) is hosting the next edition of the Festival of the Trees. It’s not too late to submit a link. Her deadline is February 27. She’s looking for posts that deal directly or indirectly with fruit trees or orchards, but she says anything even loosely connected to that theme will be considered. Send your submissions to amberapple (at) gmail (dot) com.

Future hosts are lining up, but there are still plenty of opportunities for you to play host as well. When you think the right time for you is approaching, send me or Dave (bontasaurus (at) yahoo (dot) com) an email. We’ll help you as much as you’d like.

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For only the second time this whole winter I filled the bird feeders in backyard suburbia. We have not had the flocks of sparrows and groups of cardinals we have had in the past. Even the dozens of mourning doves that used to hang out in the cypress are missing. The temps have been see-sawing around the old home, and the few birds that survived the big December ice storm must be confused by now. Some mornings I hear cardinals singing, but most mornings are quiet. Once the weather gets itself sorted out, I expect we’ll see things back to normal at the feeders.

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If the fates have smiled upon me then I am probably out at Roundrock as you read this. I’ll be fooling with the game cameras, fencings more trees, and maybe even doing a little timber stand management by cutting some crowded trees. Or I may be sitting in one of the comfy chairs and contemplating the universe.

Update: Curses, foiled again! A snow fell in Kansas City late Saturday night, and the weather reports suggested that the snowfall was stronger down Roundrock-way, so we have skipped the trip. I don’t think we would have had any trouble driving down there, until we got to the part where we leave the paved road and drive the two miles over the sometimes-challenging gravel and dirt road. Even then, getting in might not have been a problem. Getting out? Different story. If the temps really do get above freezing as expected today (well above), that challenging road might become impassable. I’m already looking at the long-range forecasts for next weekend.

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A year ago I was writing about the lovely Tawny Tussocks. Long may she wave.

Two years ago I was writing about stump water.

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What’s Pablo reading now? I’m just finishing a novel called The Assault by Harry Mulisch, considered the Netherlands greatest living author, just in time for tomorrow night’s group discussion of it. The novel begins in the last days of the Nazi occupation there and deals with the life-long consequences of the murder of a collaborator. I’ll pick up The Historian where I had left it after this, but I’m pretty sure another novel obligation will intrude before I get that one finished.

Missouri calendar:

  • Flying squirrels begin breeding.
  • Skins breed through late March.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The Missouri legislature passed a bill on this date in 1859 authorizing a border-guarding military operation to control cross-state ruffian depredations with Kansas. It didn’t help.
  • In 1870 the State College of Agriculture and the School of Mines are created by the General Assembly as branches of the University of Missouri.

Saturday Matinee – 2.23.2008

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

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I just keep trying on this old Saturday Matinee feature here at Roundrock Journal. Today’s is a short, seventeen-second offering that I call “Shadowplay.”

I hope you enjoy it.

Missouri calendar:

  • Spotted salamanders move to breeding ponds this week.

Today in Missouri history:

  • McGee College was founded on this date in 1853. Through years of war and financial turmoil it has survived to be known today as Missouri Valley College.

A start

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

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This is a stretch of our eastern boundary, just down the hill from the northeastern corner (where a big tree top came down in the ice storm).

I’ve talked about how I am slowly cutting a clear path along our fences so it’s easy to hike along them when we do so a couple of times a year just to be sure all is well. I’d like to take credit for this stretch: it’s so open and level. (That’s the fence on the left.) I didn’t clear it, though. It is naturally this way. I may have cut back few branches or some low scrub, but this is mostly the work of the forest gods. (Or maybe the nature of the soil.)

Actually, I don’t really want a path this big in most of the places. I’m more of a forest than a field guy. There are a couple of points on the southern boundary, though, that I could clear (in my copious free time) to let them grow more grassy.

It was a beautiful and relatively warm winter day when we made this hike. I think the turn to warmer weather may be just about here. Once the bugs come out, I probably won’t visit the fence lines as often to clear the path, but there may be a couple more opportunities yet before that happens.

Missouri calendar:

  • Washington’s Birthday
  • Chipmunks come out of hibernation.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Radio, stage, television, and USO star Jane Froman, known as the “Soldier in Greasepaint” who hailed from St. Louis, was gravely injured in an airplane crash on this date in 1943. She went on to perform for another three decades.

First sign of spring

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

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On some of the more southerly blogs I read, I’ve seen posts in recent days heralding the return of spring. Little signs are beginning to appear and everyone is beginning to feel blood stir in their veins. We still have plenty of cold weather ahead of us in my part of Missouri, though there are scattered, unseasonably warm days.

Our last trip to Roundrock was one of those warm days. I looked sharp for the signs of spring, but I think it’s still a little early. However, as I was sitting on a rock during our hike along the fence perimeter, I looked up and saw a tree filled with the buds you see above.

I’m pretty sure this is a hackberry tree. We have plenty of them in the wetter parts of our woods, and since the rock I was sitting on was on the north-facing slope, I was in the wetter part of our woods. (The rock itself was dry though.)

From what I’ve read about hackberries, I judge these buds to be male flowers. Hackberries will have both male and female flowers on the same tree.

I’m eager to get back to the woods to see how these buds are coming along (as well as just to be back in the woods). I expect each visit now will bring more signs of life.

Missouri calendar:

  • Walleye move onto shoals for spawning through April.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Missouri’s famous “Houn’ Dawg Division” was formed on this date in 1891. This part of the National Guard saw service in many important conflicts and took its name from an old song about a dog that was kicked around.

Tea interval

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

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When #1 Son came home from Kenya back in December (and he’s still with us) he brought me a bag of Kenyan tea that I promptly overlooked. I thought it was coffee (despite the word “tea” right at the top) and so pushed it around on the kitchen counter for weeks.

Only when we had out-of-town guests recently was it pointed out to me that the plump bag was not coffee (an inferior drink) but ground tea (the drink of the gods).

Finely ground tea, it turns out. When I opened the package I thought it might be instant tea since it was more like powder than the chopped leaves I’m accustomed to brewing with.

I brewed a pot of it last weekend, using much too much of the tea powder and coming up with a dark tea too strong even for my taste. So I cut it with more hot water and diluted it down to a level my overworked taste buds could appreciate. Then I sat at my computer and consumed the whole pot of tea (unsweetened, of course).

When I was in Kenya (it seems a lifetime ago now) my various hosts were alarmed that I did not want sugar in my tea. I was, of course, a strange Westerner to them, and no doubt I had many more, far stranger ways about me. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get back to Africa, but I’ll always have tea!

Missouri calendar:

  • Coyotes breed through March; listen for howling.

Today in Missouri history:

  • German immigrant George Engelmann came to Missouri on this date in 1833. He was a doctor, a botanist, a publisher, and a civic promoter; he is also credited with keeping the only reliable records of weather in the entire Mississippi Valley for the first half of the 19th Century.
  • Director Robert Altman is born in Kansas City on this date in 1925.